Martin Shkreli to Raise Price of Another Life-saving Drug

December 12th 2015

Kyle Jaeger

Martin Shkreli has once again found himself at the center of a controversy over drug pricing. His new plans to raise the price of a lifesaving drug for a serious infectious disease, Chagas disease, have caused alarm and prompted outcry from health professionals in the U.S.

Chagas disease is a parasitic infection that can lead to fatal heart problems, and while the disease is relatively rare outside of Latin America, KaloBios Pharmaceuticals—which named Shkreli CEO last month—paid $2 million for worldwide rights to a version of benznidazole, one of the only drugs known to treat Chagas.

"It's caused a lot of angst in the Chagas community," Dr. Sheba Meymandi, a professor at UCLA and director of a Chagas treatment center, told the New York Times. "Everyone's in an uproar."

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The drug has never been approved for sale in the U.S., but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has offered benznidazole to Chagas patients for free on an experimental basis. In Latin America, benznidazole costs between $50 to $100 for a two-month course of treatment; Shkreli says the new price would be roughly the same as for drugs used to treat hepatitis C, which cost $60,000 to almost $100,000 for a course of treatment.

"KaloBios's price [for benznidazole] would be 'pretty devastating,' Dr. Meymandi said. 'The people with Chagas for the most part are poor' and many lack insurance."

What Shkreli plans to do with this drug.

Now Martin Shrkreli, has purchased benznidazole and is seeking FDA approval for the drug. While Shkreli maintains that he is doing a service to patients by seeking approval for a drug that is often overlooked by major drug companies, critics argue that the former hedge fund manager is really just exploiting a federal program to make a profit.

Under the federal program, pharmaceutical companies that get drugs approved for certain tropical diseases receive a voucher that entitles them to an expedited FDA review of a different drug, speeding up the review process by four months. That's valuable for any drug company, so the vouchers are sometimes sold for millions.

This program is meant to encourage the development of drugs for neglected diseases by awarding vouchers. These vouchers, however, "can be sold to other companies for hundreds of millions of dollars," the Times reports

"[C]ritics say that the award of a voucher for F.D.A. approval of a drug already used in tropical countries is more a get-rich-quick scheme than a benefit to people with neglected diseases," the Times reports.

Outrage over Shkreli's last drug price hike.

Shkreli became the face of pharmaceutical greed back in September after he raised the price of Daraprim, a lifesaving drug that treats an infectious disease and helps AIDS and cancer patients, by about 5,000 percent. That was in his role as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, whereas this current scandal involves a second company that Shkreli runs, KaloBios.

The public backlash over the price hike of Daraprim forced Shkreli on the defensive. He vowed to lower the price of the drug, then later broke that promise; he was called before a special Senate committee as part of an ongoing investigation in the drug pricing practices of pharmaceutical companies in the U.S., but he declined to attend the hearing.

All said, Shkreli has brushed off critics and maintained that he's playing by the rules. That is precisely why Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have called for reform of pharmaceutical industry in the country, which does not currently regulate drug pricing.

Martin Shkreli just challenged Bernie Sanders to a public debate.

Martin Shkreli just challenged Bernie Sanders to a public debate.

Posted by ATTN: on Tuesday, October 13, 2015

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